Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is certain to win the 7nm chip race this year, as it has secured orders from over 40 customers for fabricating 7nm chips for mobile communication, high-performance computing and AI (artificial intelligence) applications.
Both Apple and Qualcomm are among TSMC's major customers, with the foundry house contracted to fabricate all the A12 processor chips for the 2018 new-generation iPhone devices, according to industry sources quoted by Digitimes.com.
TSMC will incorporate the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) technology into its 7nm+ process and step up deployments in the 5nm and 3nm processes.
The company is set to kick off construction of its Fab 18 in the Southern Taiwan Science Park in 2018 as a 5nm production base, and it also plans to invest US$20 billion to build a 3nm fab also in the park, with construction set to start in 2020.
TSMC's 5nm process will be an extension of its 7nm process, with application areas still targeting mobile communication, high-performance computing, AI and machine learning. Trial run of the 5nm fab is slated for the first half of 2019.
Meanwhile, TSMC's competitor Samsung Electronics is carrying out a spate of countermeasures. Beyond reaching a consensus with the Hwaseong city government over establishing 7nm production lines in 2018 in the Korean city, the company is negotiating with US and China customers over new cooperation projects.
Moreover, having spun off its wafer foundry service as an independent business unit in May 2017, Samsung plans to launch 4nm process in 2020 against TSMC's 5nm node, before starting volume production of 7nm process in 2018 and developing 6nm and 5nm processes in 2019, according to industry sources.
According to Samsung's foundry officials, the South Korean company will strive to grab a 25% share of the global foundry market in five years, up from less than 10% for the moment and compared to around 60% now held by TSMC.
As TSMC has won orders from Apple and Qualcomm for 7nm chip production, Samsung is making extensive contacts with potential customers in various application fields to broaden its foundry service deployments and boost its global market share, instead of focusing on fabricating high-end chips.